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Metra notes big increase in bicycle ridership while Amtrak shares details on Union Station concourse overhaul

Metra has seen a 70% increase in bicyclist ridership since it started allowing bikes on all trains in February.

Streetsblog Chicago editor-at-large Steven Vance serving as an (unpaid) spokesmodel for Bikes on Metra. Photo: Metra

This post is sponsored by Boulevard Bikes.

Metra and Amtrak staff hosted a public virtual meeting this week as a part of the Bicycle Working Group initiative that Metra launched last autumn

Metra provided new insights on bicycle ridership on trains since the regional rail service initiated a new policy allowing bikes on all trains starting in February while an Amtrak representative shared updates on upcoming changes to Union Station.

More bicycles are being brought on Metra trains

Aaron Maertins, Metra’s operations director, shared new data and feedback on ridership, most notably that Metra has seen a 70% increase in bikes brought on trains since its new bike-friendly policy went into effect February 1.

“In February and March of last year, we carried 10,000 bikes and 14,000 bikes, while in February and March of this year, we carried 19,000 and 22,000,” he explained. “That comes on the heels of 2023, the year where we carried the highest number of bikes in our recent history.”

A screenshot of the chart with historical bicyclist ridership on Metra shared by Aaron Maertins.

Maertins said that the number of bikes being brought on Metra trains is nearly equivalent to the levels seen before the introduction of the Divvy bike sharing program in the mid-2010s. Additionally, Maertins indicated that there were only four reports of bicyclists being denied entry since the new bike policy went into effect.

Metra staff also provided updates on new bicycle racks and retrofitted train cars that the agency referred to as the “Bike Car 1.5” — train cars with a bike rack with room for upwards of four bicycles (not to be confused with the so-called “Bike Car 1.0” which were old Pullman cars where the lower level was outfitted with space for up to 16 bicycles).

The current inventory of "Bike Car 1.5s" in service and the lines they're running on.

The bike rack on Metra’s 1.5 cars replaces three passenger benches. Currently, Metra has 35 of these cars in active service: 24 on the Union Pacific lines, 6 on the Rock Island line, 2 on the Milwaukee line and 3 on the BNSF line. 

Metra staff noted that there were another five of these bike cars in the shop staged and nearly ready for service. The goal Metra set earlier in the year was to eventually get up to 50 of these cars in service. 

Amtrak preparing for concourse renovation at Union Station

In addition to updates on Metra’s bike cars and bike-friend policy, Amtrak senior program manager Teresa Fourcher shared new info regarding a planned renovation at Union Station. Amtrak’s concourse renovations — which will focus on the underground area where trains depart from — are intended to improve the customer experience and efficiency of the space, as well as help prepare the station for future growth, she said.

“We all know that [the concourse] is crowded, it’s congested, is difficult to get around and sometimes hard to find your train or get to where you want to go,” Fourcher said of the current experience. “So as Amtrak looks to grow its ridership — along with Metra — we really need things to work smoothly.”

A slide that highlights the scope of the work for the Amtrak concourse renovation project.

Fourcher added that Amtrak has an aggressive growth plan to double its ridership by 2040 and that the concourse renovation will substantially increase the amount of open space within the concourse, which will help customers to get around but also help with identifying where train platforms are. 

“We are looking to clear out a lot of the junk that has accumulated over the years in the concourse,” she elaborated. “So if it does not have a direct customer service function, it will not remain on the concourse.”

Fourcher also indicated that Amtrak is “looking to add and increase elevators, escalators and stairs at all entrances” to help make the station more accessible. 

The timeline for the Union Station concourse renovation is still a ways out, however. Amtrak will conduct its design process and seek regulatory approvals over the next two years and construction could start at the earliest by mid-2026, Fourcher said. The construction phase could take upwards of two years, meaning that the project would most likely be completed at some point in 2028. 

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